These are culturally sensitive times, and those sensitivities are culturally relative. This afternoon, Elie Saab put out a typically va-va-voom collection that his press release described as “a reflection on the diversity than animates the great savannas of Africa.” As a white English male, I’ve got so much privilege I have to check in excess at the gate when approaching such issues as a Lebanese designer dedicating a collection to a very broad-brush interpretation of the African continent. Is “expedition chic” or “safari chic” featuring “African bead necklaces and bracelets” okay today? The answer depends on where you come from.

What can be reported rather than rhetoricized is that Saab’s sure hand when it comes to delivering powerful evening gowns in jersey, cady, taffeta, and lace remained steady this afternoon. There were strong, (relatively) simple dresses cut in tulle strafed with long lines of sequins and cute daisy brocade daywear worn by a (relatively) diverse casting. There were also epauletted and billows-pocketed swooshy daywear looks in desert tones, blown up abstracted Dutch prints, and adapted Nefertiti-style headpieces. Even when soundtracked by Nina Simone’s wonderful “Funkier Than A Mosquito’s Tweeter,” in the sensitive times mentioned at the top, it was hard to entirely succumb to the sometimes beautiful collection Saab presented this afternoon.
Elie Saab is no minimalist; you won’t find practical daywear options in his Couture collections. Today’s show was an unabashed ode to a world of opulence that lives in dreams and fantasies—or on red carpets.

The lengthy press notes provided a sort of narrative that referenced Mexico and its visual culture, particularly in the embroidered motifs lavished on almost every evening dress. The rather convoluted story went that a woman receives a letter summoning her to Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City; suspended between dream and reality, she wanders about the place, obviously clad in the magnificent couture concoctions in which, quoting the notes, “the regal past of both Europe and imperial Mexico are intertwined.”

Not being particularly acquainted with Mexican heraldry, I had no basis for an opinion about the more or less faithful rendition the designer gave of said imperial imagery. But that wasn’t the point. What stood out was the golden shimmer the collection seemed to be bathed in. The dresses looked as if immersed in an uninterrupted stream of curlicued embroideries, incrustations of florals and pearls, and intarsia-ed baroque swirls. With embellishments of an imperial magnitude, shapes seemed not to differ much from one another, overwhelmed by ruffles, swirls of rosettes, and bows. Silhouettes had fitted bodices and dramatic Elizabethan leg-of-mutton sleeves with trains and long capes adding to the majestic effect.

Providing respite from such opulent visual overload, a series of beautifully sculpted silk duchesse gowns in jewel tones of chartreuse, coral, and turquoise had the right mix of glamour and theatrical presence. They will surely be popular with the many clients in Saab’s front row.

World Fashion Channel


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